Blossomgame leads Clemson past struggling NC State
By Pete Iacobelli
AP Sports Writer
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame wasn’t sure if he were happier at winning or finally succeeding in an Atlantic Coast Conference that came down the wire.
“It feels very, very good,” a smiling Blossomgame said. “We’ve played well all year, but have just come down on the tough side of things.”
Not this time against North Carolina State. Blossomgame scored all 16 of his points in the second half, including a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 1:27 left in the Tigers 78-74 victory Wednesday night.
Clemson (15-14, 5-12) had been 1-9 this season in league game’s decided by six points or less. North Carolina State had its shot to extend the Tigers’ disappointment. But with the Wolfpack trailing 76-74, Dennis Smith’s air-balled a long 3-pointer with three seconds to go.
Was Blossomgame worried?
“Nah, I saw it was wide right,” he said.
After Smith’s miss, Blossomgame was fouled and made both free throws with 2.2 seconds left to seal the victory.
“Really happy for my guys,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We finally gutted one out and made a couple of plays down the stretch.”
Shelton Mitchell had 16 points for the Tigers.
Clemson players hugged each other when the horn sounded, probably relieved they did not go through another gut-wrenching loss. The Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak — the three defeats came by a total of nine points — with their first win decided by six points or less in the ACC since starting league play with a 73-68 win at Wake Forest on New Year’s Eve.
The Wolfpack (15-16, 4-14) lost for the third time in four games since deciding that coach Mark Gottfried would not return next year. Their 14 ACC losses are the most for the program since the 1992-93 team went 2-14 in league play.
Sidy Djitte had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Tigers.
Abdul Malik-Abu had 18 points to lead North Carolina State. Super freshman Smith had 13 points as did Terry Henderson.
THE BIG PICTURE
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack certainly could’ve mailed in their last regular-season ACC game on the road in this forgettable year. But North Carolina State shot 55.2 percent (16 of 29) and grabbed the halftime lead on Ted Kapita’s jumper with two seconds to go. … Freshman starter Markell Johnson was involved in a scary collision with Clemson’s Elijah Thomas. Johnson had to be carried from the court with what appeared to be a knee injury into the locker room. He did not return. North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said Johnson would be re-evaluated when the team got back to campus.
Clemson: If the Tigers are built on defense, it let them down early against the Wolfpack. Clemson rarely had a hand in anyone’s face the first 20 minutes as North Carolina State made wide open shots. The Tigers, third in the ACC in steals per game, had just one in the opening half. It looked like maybe Clemson was finally worn down by all its close ACC calls this season.
Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame believes his team’s close losses have hardened the Tigers and made them a dangerous team to handle in ACC Tournament next week in New York. “Brooklyn will be interesting for us,” he said.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried was pleased that his players have remained engaged, active and competitive since the coaching change. “I think sometimes I think people forget how hard it is for them,” he said. “We recruiting every single guy, have great relationships with them. It’s tough for them sometimes, too.”
North Carolina State plays next at the ACC tournament in Brooklyn, New York.
Clemson finishes the regular season at home against Boston College on Saturday.
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